I was told I was being deported but not that I had AIDS
“No one informed me about my illness. I was told to pack up and go home. So, I went back to my wife and kid.”
After the polio vaccination restrictions placed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Pakistan, the country is likely to face another restriction in the future. This could be due to an increasing numbers of HIV positive patients in the country. The main reason behind this increase is the growing number of Pakistanis who are being deported back to their country because they are HIV positive.
“It’s entirely my fault; I am the sole reason my wife and son are inflicted with this disease”
These words were spoken by an ill-fated AIDS patient, Naveed, who was deported from Dubai in 2012 when he was tested positive with HIV.
Thousands of Pakistanis are deported due to various reasons from different countries. However, Naveed was one of those many Pakistanis who were deported due to HIV. What is alarming is the fact that these deportees were not given any reason for their expulsion and as such, were unaware of the disease they had been inflicted with. According to a story published in the Express Tribune, over 380,000 Pakistanis have been deported from 54 countries since 2009. The average rate of deported Pakistanis, during the five-year-long period, amounts to 208 deportees per day, a report has stated.
“No one informed me about my illness. I was told to pack up and go home. So, I did just that and began my life again with my wife and kid,” said Naveed.
“I was living a happily married life, oblivious to the fact that while living with my wife, I had first infected her and then my child with this disease. I had no idea that I was HIV positive.”
The first time a case like this was reported (often referred to as ‘patient zero’) was in 1987, when a person hailing from Lahore was deported from the Gulf States for being HIV positive. ‘Patient zero’ was not the only victim to fall prey to this situation and since then hundreds of Pakistanis have been deported from different countries on the same grounds. The fact that these people are not informed of their disease is a major cause of concern, especially considering the virus they are carrying can be fatal. Experts believe that if this situation persists, another travel restriction will become inevitable for Pakistan.
Dr Bashir Achakzai, manager of the National AIDS Control Programme, said that HIV positive migrants were one of the main reasons behind the increasing number of HIV positive cases in Pakistan. He stated that,
“We are trying to address this issue by drawing appropriate guidelines. To address these HIV patients, we are in the process of drafting a legislative bill. We have had multiple meetings with the UN AIDS programme officers in Pakistan, regarding this issue, and through these meetings we hope to achieve some progress on this pressing issue”.
Saleem, a social worker, currently working on an HIV/AIDS prevention programme said that people coming to Pakistan from abroad are not screened upon their arrival in Pakistan. He added that,
“In the 27 years that have passed since patient zero, at least 5,800 Pakistanis have lost their lives as a result of the HIV virus and the total number of estimated cases range somewhere from 14,000 to 125,000 people, depending on who is willing enough to speak to you”.
In light of the abovementioned statistics, I believe, the Pakistani government needs to play an active role in developing a mutual responsibility policy with foreign governments to ensure that the reason for deportation is reported back to the local authorities. This is especially important for countries in which Pakistani citizens are hired as labour. The fact that these countries deport citizens without any reason is irresponsible and aggravates the epidemic in the country. Without this mutual sense of responsibility, neither will Pakistan be able to combat the disease nor will it be able to control its export.
Aside from that, all Pakistani airports should be equipped with screening systems to make sure the virus is not exported and intervention programmes should be conducted to educate the population on the affects of the disease. Small steps, such as these, can make a big difference in the future and the time to put them into effect is now, lest we become host to another fatal disease.